We Tried It
Portable Backdrops Improve Portraits

The new line of moderately-priced cloth backgrounds from Backdrop Alley, Inc., is offered in six popular colors: gray, brown, studio (royal) blue, black, hunter green, and ivory. The size is a generous 4.8x10' that is more than adequate when placed vertically for both head and shoulder or seated single portraits and will do for a full-length view of one person. The royal blue background is shown inside its storage bag and the rich, deep black version is crumpled on the right.

Generally, the one major difference that makes any photo more interesting than a mere snapshot is paying careful attention to the surroundings and subsequently moving in for a closer, more detailed view of the subject. The latter improved camera technique is accomplished by using a telephoto lens, or simply moving closer to the subject. One simple method of producing a less distracting background is to use a special background that you provide rather than attempting to find something at the local where you plan to shoot. Portrait subjects in particular practically demand a plain, simplified background to permit the individual and their clothes to predominate in the picture. This type of isolated background also helps improve commercial product photography.

You can purchase a portable fabric background quite reasonably and easily carry it along to use most anywhere. One type of background material was introduced in the past year by Backdrop Alley. It's made of soft 100 percent polyester material that sheds wrinkles so creases caused by repeated folding don't show up. If wrinkling does occur, they are easily removed by putting the backdrop in a dryer on the warm cycle for about 10-15 minutes or ironing the reverse side using a low temperature.

One side of the material is soft and suede-like while the other has a shiny close-knit appearance, which is not particularly suitable for photography. It is lightweight and easily folded for storage in the plastic zip closure bag it comes in. My samples arrived with folds showing, but they disappeared after a brief tumble in the clothes dryer.

They are offered in six popular colors: gray, brown, studio (royal) blue, black, hunter green, and ivory. The size is a generous 58x120" (4.8x10') that is more than adequate when placed vertically for head and shoulder or seated single portraits and will do for a full-length view of one person if you pose them carefully. When recording headshots of two or more people you can spread one sheet horizontally.

Since it is lightweight you can carry it along and easily drape it most anywhere or hold it on a wall by using short strips of double-sided tape (which are included). When a wider or bigger background is required you can use two of the same color together and the overlap seam barely shows. If it should become soiled, it's even machine washable using the cold, delicate cycle on your washer then tumble dry.

The manufacturer recommends that you keep the subject at least 2' away to minimize showing the texture of the material. Truthfully, the test shots I made using the royal blue and black samples we obtained were not adversely affected by having the subject even closer to the material.

In addition to portraits of adults, children, and pets, this portable backdrop would be very handy for many commercial subjects. Espe-cially those shot on location where you may have a busy, confusing background that detracts from the prime subject. Just be sure to select a color that goes well with the subject. The black material that I had a sample of, is so rich and light absorbing that it would be quite suitable for making double exposures or any type of view where you wanted a pitch black background to further isolate the subject.

For more information, or ordering instructions, contact Backdrop Alley, Inc., 38 Otis Road, Barrington, IL 60010; (847) 382-5462 for phone or fax. The suggested list price is a moderate $50, a small additional cost if you shoot lots of subjects that need background assistance.

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